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Veterans: post tips for new coaches

Geoffrey Taucer

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Each generation of coaches improves by taking what prior generations have learned and building on it (as is true with most things). But there are also often nuggets of wisdom we wish we'd found earlier.

So, to all the veteran coaches (ie 10 years or more): post advice you would like to give to those who are new to coaching.

Will post mine in a follow-up post
 

Geoffrey Taucer

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First piece of advice for those considering a coaching career: reconsider. Coaching is a blast and is emotionally incredibly rewarding, but it's physically and emotionally exhausting and doesn't pay much for what you put in. In other words, it's a wonderful, wonderful job when you're in school and your parents are covering most of your expenses, but it's not nearly so wonderful a decade down the line when your injuries take longer to heal and you have to pay bills/rent/mortgage/etc.

Second piece of advice, should you choose to ignore the first: coaches are imperfect. don't strive to be as good as the coaches who coached you; strive to be better. Your coaches' ability is not the end goal; it's the starting line. Sports science has progressed, sports psych has progressed, gymnastics technique has progressed, and society has changed since your coaches were in the sport. I myself am not by any means old; it's been a mere ten years since last I competed, and yet the sports has changed enormously since I was an athlete. If I were to teach my students the way my coaches taught me, it would be inadequate at best and negligent at worst.
If you came up in the sport as one of my students, then your absolute first assumption should be that you can do it better than I did. Do not even question this assumption. Your job is not to coach your students as well as I coached you; your job is to do it better. The way I coach is most-assuredly wrong, but it's less wrong than the way my coaches taught me, which is less wrong than the way their coaches taught them. Your job is to be less wrong than me

Third: look two years ahead. In other words, if you are coaching a group of level 4s, don't look to build great level 4s; study your gym's level 6s. Look for what they do well, and try to emulate and replicate that; even more importantly, look for the things they struggle on, and try to find ways to preemptively avoid those struggles.

Fourth: technique should be driven first by mechanics, and second by aesthetics. In other words, your first priority in training a new skill should be to optimize for mechanical efficiency; perfecting form comes after (though not long after). While an understanding of proper form and tightness and body control should be introduced as early as possible, it is extremely common for form errors to have an underlying mechanical cause.
For example, suppose you have a kid who is piking down at the end of a back layout. Rather than trying to get them to remain extended in their layout, it may be more effective to try to build more power on the takeoff, allowing them to complete the rotation earlier without having to pike down at the end. Or suppose you have a kid who bends their knees in a cast to handstand; rather than just trying to get the legs straight, try to build their confidence and control and strength to the point where they can make it to handstand without feeling like they have to bend their legs to get there.
For every error, there is a reason for the error, and that reason most likely has to do with either mechanics or psychology. If your competitive-level athlete (assuming he or she learned decent basics and understand the concept of a tight body) is making a form error, they are not doing it intentionally; they are doing it because, in the middle of the skill, it intuitively feels like the best option. Rather than looking to fix the form error, you will generally find more success by looking to correct the source of that intuition.

Fifth: for every skill, train the crash first. Whether you're working on a handstand on floor or a giant on bars, athletes will be more confident and consistent and clean if they understand how to bail out of the skill if something goes wrong.
For example, suppose you want a kid to hold a handstand on floor. The kid will never achieve vertical until they are equally confident falling either forward or backward; this being the case, they should learn how to step down, and how to either forward roll or quarter-turn-bail.

Sixth: pick up a copy of Championship Gymnastics by Gerald George.
 
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Hollowarchkick

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Don’t assume you know the best way. Be open to other techniques. Look at what works and what has worked for you and your gymnasts.

When you see a drill, actually evaluate it. Sometimes a minor tweak can make a huge difference. Steal every good idea and make it better. Otherwise you’re chasing the others that are doing it like the original.

Study. Learn the rules of the game. Watch videos, go to clinics, ask questions.

If you were a gymnast, try to explain what you felt or would feel if you were doing the skill. If you’re spotting, help the kids feel what they should feel. If they should push through their shoulders, lift them slightly when that should happen. Don’t just move them but manipulate them.

Make a plan and trust it. It should be malleable when necessary but don’t panic if someone from another gym makes a jump. They will and then they’ll slow and your kid will. It’ll be ok. At the same time, have a back up plan. Don’t be stubborn.

Go with momentum. Drill it, and then do it. If it’s good, let them go. If they do that well, keep pushing. Just because something is hard for some doesn’t mean it’ll be hard for all.

I’ll try to think of more
 

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Be able to explain things 2-3 ways. Not everyone understands your favorite way. I ask me kids all the time “ Do you understand what I am asking you to do.” If they don’t understand after that, I send them to another coach to explain it their way.

The biggest one I can think of is “heel drive.” Little ones will tell you that they don’t have any muscles in their heels. I physically touch their hamstrings and explain how to use those muscles to get their heels up. Same with a hollow body. Most will slightly close their hips because they think they are arching their lower back when they are in the “flat hip” position that is so high important for clear hips.
 

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Not sure if fourteen years is enough to be considered a veteran, but I’ve taught and done well enough in quite a few states and a country or two.

“The best coach hasn’t been born yet and probably never will be.” and “There is no right way to teach something, but there are wrong ways.” Those are two things I live by and think everyone should know.

When it comes to spotting, you shouldn’t be using more muscle to spot the skill than it would take for you to do the skill yourself. It’s their skill. Spot for safety. If they aren’t doing most of the work, then they aren’t ready to try. I also only spot to ensure that they are safe and not that they will land.

Falling is important. They should understand that falling is normal and will happen a lot. Teach your gymnasts how to fall and that it’s okay to do it. If the kids are scared of falling then they will be afraid of trying.

The last thing has been a bit controversial when talking with other coaches. They either agree or look at me like I’m insane when I say it. Nothing is going to make you more confidant or comfortable when doing a skill than actually doing it. You can prep and drill a skill for an entire year, but that skill will still be wrong the first time you actually do it. Drills and preps are great for teaching aspects of skills and correcting things that you are doing wrong in a skill, but they will never “get” you a skill. You only “get” a skill after you are comfortable doing it and can make the corrections that are taught using preps, drills, and spotting. Don’t get disheartened because your gymnasts aren’t doing a skill perfectly after you have done ever drill and prep. Give it time and help them fix the problems.

Oh and not every drill on YouTube is going to work for you if you don’t understand exactly what they are doing, what they are looking at, why they are doing it, where they were when they started it, what they did to prepare for it, and the exact result they want; you are just going to end up frustrated.
 

Aero

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I absolutely love this thread! I hope to one day be a "veteran" of coaching this wonderfully complicated and challenging, yet beautiful sport. I l really enjoy hearing from people who have been in the game a long time; such valuable advice comes from experience. Keep it coming!
 

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I had forgotten this thread Aero.

I think a big thing to remember is that you and your gymnasts are on the same side. You both want the same thing (to succeed, learn new skills etc). The way you coach should reflect this. We are not trying to force them, or to drag motivation out of them. Our tactic doesn’t need to be to scare them into working hard. We are working together towards the same goals.

Secondly, very much as Geoffrey Taucer says, the obvious problem is rarely the problem. You see coaches say things like “stuck your landing”, “go higher”, “you need to rebound”. But those are rarely the problems, they are just the effects of the problems. Great tool is to video the skill and watch it in slow motion. Pay attention to the starting position, take off etc.

Third, make your expectations high. Kids do tend to live up to expectations, if they are low then the achievement is low. Always ask for more. If you believe they can do more, they will believe it too.
 

Geoffrey Taucer

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Gonna bump up this thread again, with some advice that I recently gave to another young coach:

Two things you should always always keep in mind. First, your passion for the sport makes you more valuable, not less. Second, every gym in the country is always short-staffed, no exceptions.

The implications of these two things when taken together are very important. This is an industry staffed largely by people who are motivated more by their passion for the sport than by the money they make for the work, and gym owners know this. Because of this, a LOT of gym owners will try to take advantage of their coaches' passion to get them to do more work than they should for less money than they should; don't let them do this ever. Don't work for free, don't put up with any disrespect from your employers. You can find a new gym much more easily than they can find a new coach.
I'm not saying that there aren't any gyms that treat their staff well, just that such gyms are the exception, not the norm. This is, unfortunately, especially true of small mom-and-pop gyms (which is a shame, because those are usually the most fun to work at).
 
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Aussie_coach

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Apparently those who see their work as their passion as more easily exploitable in the work force in general. They want to spend those extra hours working on class content, attending seminars. They would come and do extra hours for free just because they want to be there. There can also be a certain sense of guilt for many people to ask to be paid for doing something they love.

I think the biggest issue here is not gym owners exploiting them, but a lack of knowledge about payment laws. I a, a gym owner and we generally come to own gyms because we love the sport and we love to coach, not because we have business degrees. I do all I can to stay on top of these laws but you have to first of all be aware that there are laws to stay on top of.

I think the other issue is that there really can be a blurred line. The gym owner may have a competition to send gymnasts to, and may need a certain number of coaches and they may hire those coaches to attend. Another coach may then want to attend to get some experience etc, but the gym does not need more staff at the meet so has not budgeted further money. What do we do? Say no they can’t attend, say they can attend but that they won’t be paid, take money from elsewhere and pay them anyway, meaning we run it at a loss because we haven’t budgeted for more staff. Things like this can and do happen.
 

Geoffrey Taucer

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Apparently those who see their work as their passion as more easily exploitable in the work force in general. They want to spend those extra hours working on class content, attending seminars. They would come and do extra hours for free just because they want to be there. There can also be a certain sense of guilt for many people to ask to be paid for doing something they love.

I think the biggest issue here is not gym owners exploiting them, but a lack of knowledge about payment laws. I a, a gym owner and we generally come to own gyms because we love the sport and we love to coach, not because we have business degrees. I do all I can to stay on top of these laws but you have to first of all be aware that there are laws to stay on top of.

I think the other issue is that there really can be a blurred line. The gym owner may have a competition to send gymnasts to, and may need a certain number of coaches and they may hire those coaches to attend. Another coach may then want to attend to get some experience etc, but the gym does not need more staff at the meet so has not budgeted further money. What do we do? Say no they can’t attend, say they can attend but that they won’t be paid, take money from elsewhere and pay them anyway, meaning we run it at a loss because we haven’t budgeted for more staff. Things like this can and do happen.
Agreed, and I have no problem whatsoever with coaches voluntarily attending meets without pay, as long as everybody is completely clear that they are not obligated to, and that there will be no penalty whatsoever should they decline to attend, or should they arrive late, or leave early, or whatever. Basically, if the coaches' time is being scheduled by the gym, they should be getting paid, and if they are free to come and go or to not show up at all, then it's alright if they're off the clock.

I also want to clarify: most of the exploitation of passion that happens in this industry is not out of malevolence; it's often done out of convenience, sometimes not even consciously. It's on owners to be aware of labor laws, but once we get beyond the minimum established by labor laws, it's up to coaches to dictate what is and is not acceptable to us.
Sometimes (especially when we're still young enough to live with our parents and have almost no expenses beyond transportation), working dirt cheap doing something you're passionate about is great, and there's nothing wrong with that at all. But when you have bills to pay, it's also completely ok to ask for a raise, to look for higher-paying positions, and to value your time and expertise at a higher rate.
 
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Aussie_coach

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The bit that can be worrisome is that many gyms will then increase the hours of the ones who don’t ask to be paid, reduce the hours of the ones who do. That is illegal here, but can be hard to prove.
 

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